Updated: Jul 13, 2022
"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8
After my last blog post, Tina and I have been overwhelmed by the support and love shown to us. It takes a lot of trust to say to someone who has been asked to stand down from a leadership role that you don't need to hear any more details but support them 100%. I cannot put into words how much that means to Tina and I that so many are willing to put their trust in my integrity in this matter.
Some friends have been understandably a bit more neutral, trying to understand what has been going on, especially those who have only heard one side. I would be in this camp as well if I heard an elder had been asked to stand down under such vague circumstances. That said, it is hard to hear neutrality when you are experiencing injustice, so for my friends who are rightly working things out and trying to hear all sides, I am doing my best to respond gently. I hope this quote from Desmond Tutu shows where I am at:
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."
This post is to state why I am calling this injustice, clarify why I am not rushing to reconciliation as some seem to expect me to do, but also some thoughts on what would help us get there. I am not questioning the elders motives, intent, or character, I am merely reflecting on the facts of the situation and how they have impacted me.
What is the injustice? My previous blog post, which gives an overview of the last few months, was written because I was not allowed to share my perspective in the church. It shares the detail at the level I'm comfortable sharing publicly. Following the blog post, other actions were taken to further silence my voice in the church all while saying I was welcome there. It transpires that for at least four weeks, the elders had discussed asking me to stand down, including with the apostolic oversight. During this time they failed to discuss this or raise any concerns with me, beyond stating that I should "consider my role in the team". It was only until I pressed them in our last meeting that they said that they thought I should stand down and gave me the reasons stated in my last blog post.
The narrative that I have been quarrelsome is still being shared despite this being vague, subjective and lacking any specifics that I can repent for. The issue now is that if I defend myself publicly with evidence to the contrary, it will be interpreted as divisive (or even quarrelsome). Suffice to say, since November I've been pleading (not quarrelling) with the elders, not just in meetings but in emails and WhatsApp messages to do right and to consider how to navigate repentance because we were in the wrong.
I can not and will not own the quarrelsome label being applied to me. To my knowledge, I have not lied, have not questioned motives, have not insulted, have not lashed out, and have not argued for the sake of it or argued over anything petty. I do, as was said on my behalf in the most recent meeting, take responsibility for where I have been more forceful than I should have been and have since apologised to both elders for that.
Sadly, all of this barely scratches the surface of the injustice and hurt caused and is nothing in comparison to the injustice my friends, who I was asked to support, have faced over the last few months.
So how should we respond?
“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14 NIV
Some, including the elders, have stated that reconciliation is the next step. It would seem to some that the elders apologised and so it is down to me to receive it. It was important, according to one elder in the initial meeting, that the church know that I am angry with the elders, trustees, solicitors, and unhappy with the process. In the context that this was said, there was no explanation of why I am angry. I don’t know the elder's intent, but due to how it was stated, the insinuation is that I am not receiving their offer of reconciliation because I am angry.
Anger is not a sin in and of itself. Christians are told to be slow to anger and we are told not to sin in our anger (some translations say "be angry but do not sin"), something which admittedly is hard not to do due to our tendencies to lash out when angry. I do have reason to be angry and it would be odd if I wasn't. I am angry at the injustice of how my friend's grievance was handled and angry at how she has been hurt and partly blamed for the breakdown in the church. I am angry at the misrepresentation of my character, the attack on my integrity, the damage to the church I love, and the hurt caused to my family and friends. I think my anger is justified but I won’t be dwelling in it for long - it will not become bitterness. Yes, I am angry, but this is due to the injustice of the situation, not a blemish of my character. All that said, until the injustice is dealt with, I don't believe reconciliation is the next step.
What is reconciliation? First, it cannot be blurred with forgiveness. I forgive the elders, as, I believe, all of us who have been hurt by their actions and inaction should. The hurt they have caused is not something I will hold against them. For us as Christians, forgiveness is a command that all of us must follow and I am working through this. Forgiveness is why I can hope that I won’t be living with anger for long.
Reconciliation, however, is the restoration of relationship. Christ reconciles people to God as they trust in the forgiveness found by Christ's death and resurrection through repentance. Justice through the cross, and repentance, through our action (more on both in a moment), leads to reconciliation. For reconciliation between people, there needs to be action, justice and repentance, for both parties to be able to find unity again. The expectation that reconciliation is the first step demands the hurt party to just get over their hurt. It is wrong to expect the hurt party to be ready to reconcile at the beckoning of the one who did the hurting. It is wrong to expect reconciliation when the cause for the hurt has not been made clear or acknowledged, let alone repented for. It is also wrong to expect reconciliation at the expense of justice. Reconciliation without justice or repentance is like trying to use a plaster on a severely broken limb. The elders offering reconciliation publicly while not being explicit in what they (or I) have actually done wrong is repeating injustice.
What does repentance look like? It doesn't look like saying sorry for how someone has felt or perceived something. Repentance is saying sorry for what was done or not done to cause the hurt. Repentance is honest, open, and transparent. It states clearly what the mistakes were. You cannot apologise for other people's feelings or perceptions. If you do apologise for the hurt person's feelings you hurt them further because you are saying that their feelings are the problem. Repentance is hard because you have to admit that you have caused the hurt, but it has to be done for any reconciliation to be real.
Repentance also looks like action. Biblical definitions of the word repentance often include the phrase 'to turn from sin'. The idea is that if you are doing something wrong, you stop and make it right. Repentance should not leave people confused, should not feel like wrongdoing is being covered over, and should not leave people feeling angry. It should be seen that wrongs are being made right. Things being made right cannot just focus on process and policy but rather than behaviour and justice.
There are consequences that cannot be ignored if reconciliation is to be achieved. Justice required for reconciliation between humanity and God was taken by God on the cross. In this case what does justice look like? I can forgive the elders for their actions, but I cannot trust them in their current role as they have hurt the church by their actions, decisions, and communication. If I were to remain in the church, justice required for reconciliation looks like the elders stepping down from their roles. This wouldn't be a punitive action but would show humility and help rebuild the trust of the church. As the elders clearly disagree with that, I will remove myself from their oversight. I hope reconciliation will occur in the future.
I don't want to see people leave Hope Church. I don't want to leave Hope Church. However, trust has been lost in the leadership and the apostolic oversight, and people are leaving the church because of the lack of repentance, truth, and transparency. Their leaving is not simply because they like me, or that I have some sort of influence. Those who are leaving, love Jesus and desire truth and justice and have not seen the full measure of either in the elders' current responses. Some members decided to leave after the initial meeting on the Wednesday night, which, as my blog posts shared, I had no part in. I am aware that despite this, some are blaming me and my blog post for the division.
I am also aware that some are choosing to stay and think the elders have apologised and are doing what is right. That is their prerogative and I can only offer my view from the facts I have. I hope that people can make decisions based on two sides of the story - my side, having been silenced within the church, is here if people want it.
A final thought
If the hurt caused to the elders has come from me telling the truth, I cannot and will not apologise.
If I have sinned in my frustration and anger then I am truly sorry and I ask for the elders' forgiveness.
I am open to reconciliation once repentance and justice are seen. Trust in the leadership has been broken and I can no longer remain a member of Hope Church and have informed the elders of this. I hope this blog goes some way to explain why I've had to leave.
I continue to invite questions and conversation from members of Hope Church. Thank you for reading this and I appreciate your prayers as we move on from this as a family and work out where to worship next.